The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine, has been given the opportunity of sailing away on the Aurora for a week long luxury cruise. The Aurora is a small, intimate ship with only a few cabins and the select special guests who were picked for her first voyage. Mixed in with socialites and other journalists, Lo is ready to relax and enjoy the plush beds, fancy food and endless champagne.

On her first night on the ship Lo is getting ready for the formal dinner and she realizes she forgot some of her makeup. She knocks next door, at Cabin 10, and borrows mascara from the woman there before going back to her cabin to finish her preparations.

The night goes as planned; beautiful dinner, schmoozing with the other attendees and drinking a little too much.  After a mostly pleasant evening, Lo returns to her cabin to snuggle down into her bed for her first real night of sleep in a week.

Then, a scream. A splash. Lo rushes to her balcony only to see swirling dark waters and what she thinks might be blood on the glass of Cabin 10. But before she can process what might have happened, the blood is gone, the night is silent again.

When she investigates the cabin next door with security, it’s empty. They inform her that the planned guest for Cabin 10 never arrived and that no passenger is missing. The cabin is bare, as if that woman had never existed.

Now Lo must get to the bottom of what she heard and saw, while trapped on a small boat with a group of people she doesn’t know. Who was that woman? Was she murdered? Was Lo dreaming? What really happened that night?

“The Woman in Cabin 10” is a claustrophobic murder mystery with a few surprising twists to keep us turning those pages. Eery and engrossing, this book is hard to put down. Ware has a talent for picking locations for murders that are deliciously creepy in their own natural ways. A glass house in the heart of a forest (In a Dark, Dark Wood) and now a small boat in the middle of an empty ocean.

After finishing this novel, you’ll check the locks on your doors before sleeping at night and possibly think twice about that vacation you were planning.

After all, boats can be very dangerous places.

Release date: July 19, 2016

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The Girl of Ink and Stars

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I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life is a mess. Her ex-husband is now married to the woman he had an affair with, she lost her job, is constantly drunk and is pretending to commute to work in London each morning to hide the shambles of her life from her flatmate. Rachel is struggling with the absence of everything she previously treasured; her house, her husband, her career. One of her only bright moments each day is when she gets a peek at the life of what she believes is a happily married couple through the train window.

Every day her train stops at her old neighborhood and she glimpses a couple, who she names Jess and Jason in her head, as they drink coffee and have breakfast on their deck. She begins to feel like she has a connection to them, making up the background of their life together in her imagination. They seem beautiful, happy and she admires them from afar through her despair and drunken haze.

Then one day Rachel sees something that throws everything she thought she knew about the couple into doubt. As she goes to the police with what she thought she saw, her life becomes irreversibly entangled in theirs. The deeper Rachel goes, the more people whose sordid pasts become unveiled.

“Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a page tuner with unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and awful characters who perpetuate great cruelty as their entwined histories are revealed. Though we can’t help but feel deep pity for Rachel; her lying, meddling and drunken blackouts cause frustration as we try to figure out what really happened.

It becomes obvious we cannot trust any character in this book as secrets are divulged one by one, changing the story as we thought we knew it thus far. As we stumble deeper and deeper into betrayal, lies and possibly murder; we can only wonder, is anyone ever who they seem to be?

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

…that left only Father Christmas. He would be coming again in less than a week and, in order to settle the question for once and for all, I had long ago laid plans to trap him. Scientifically.

Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old mastermind chemist detective, is determined to find out if the slippery St. Nick is real. He always seems to come and go without a trace and she is determined for this year to be different. Christmas is only a few days away and Flavia, being the clever minx she is, plans to catch him. She concocts a nice batch of bird lime in her laboratory to slather onto the roof to prove, once and for all, that he exists.

A few days before Christmas, Flavia’s father, Colonel de Luce, announces that a movie company will be taking over Flavia’s home, Buckshaw, to use it as a set for a film. Shortly thereafter, the famous Phyllis Wyvern has descended upon their crumbling English mansion with her director and film crews. As they begin to film, the town Vicar convinces Wyvern to perform a little Romeo and Juliet for the townspeople to help raise money for charity at Buckshaw. The night of the performance a blizzard hits, trapping all the townspeople at the mansion overnight. As everyone beds down the evening, strewn across the entryways and floors like a big sleepover party, Flavia sneaks out of her room to wander. Amid the late night snores and shuffles she hears the slap-slap-slap of a film endlessly circling at the end of its reel. She follows the sound and finds, as Flavia always does, that someone has been murdered.

With each Flavia de Luce mystery that is written, I am scared I will not enjoy them as much as the last. As with most series that have no end in sight, I tend to open the books with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Will this one be as good as its predecessors? I always wonder. No fear this time readers! Bradley hasn’t lost a whit of his writing fire.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows was a great book. I started it last night, reading until I had to sleep, and then finished it this morning. This Christmas themed addition to the series is just as amusing, heart warming and enjoyable to read as the three that preceded it. Flavia is as clever as ever. Though this mystery is full of her whirlwind schemes, chemistry experiments and constant battles with her sisters as usual, this book offers a bit more.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows revolves around stalking Father Christmas and solving the movie set murder, but we also get to learn about the people in Flavia’s life. Dogger, their faithful handyman, her father Colonel de Luce and even her relationship with her sisters grows as the story progresses. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I think it may be my new favorite of the series.

If you haven’t read the Flavia books before I’d suggest starting with the first, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. They’re all wonderful and can be independently read, but it is more fun to read from the beginning of Flavia’s adventures.

If you have already read the Flavia books and are waiting to start this one, stop waiting! Its a jolly good read with lots murder mystery fun, but also, cartloads of Christmas cheer.

A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized of all the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest.

Have you met sleuth Flavia de Luce? She is cunning, witty, sharp as a whip and a bit of a mad scientist. She lives in the crumbling old estate Buckshaw with her father and two sisters where she concocts experiments in an old laboratory. Her two evil sisters are to be found often reading, playing instruments or torturing Flavia. They might tie her up in the cellar, but she’ll get back at them in her own manner. Once she had her revenge by distilling the essence of poison out of a plant, mixing it with a melted lipstick and then molding the lipstick back into its original shape for her sister to use. Yea, shes that brilliant. Did I mention she is 11-years-old?

I have often heard people call Flavia “unrealistic” and complain about her being so darn smart (jealousy I tell you!) But really, did you complain when Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Susan walked through the wardrobe into Narnia? NO! You just sat there wishing that a lamppost would appear in YOUR forest. So stop complaining. Books don’t need to be realistic, its why we love them.

Anyway, back to the Herring without Mustard. The third in the Flavia de Luce novels is yet another murder mystery. It starts when Flavia has her fortune told by a gypsy and accidentally sets her tent on fire. She is only 11 after all, accidents happen. In her remorse and I suspect, for a bit of fun, she invites the gypsy to come rest on the Buckshaw estate for the evening. Later that night in a fit of wakefulness Flavia travels out to the Gypsy’s caravan and finds her bleeding to death. Thankfully, the gypsy lives but the mystery continues.

Don’t be disappointed, I did say murder mystery. Not all the characters in this story are as lucky as the gypsy. A local vagabond dies shortly thereafter and Flavia is once again pedaling Gladys, her trusty bicycle, around the countryside in search of clues.

This book will not shake your soul or change your life but it will make you laugh, chuckle and turn the pages to see what scrapes she gets into next. I always enjoy my time with Flavia, I think you would too.

(Recommendation: If you haven’t read Flavia’s exploits before, start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and then The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. )